Annapolis River Guardians

The Annapolis River Guardians began monitoring the Annapolis River and its tributaries in September 1992, in the first water quality monitoring program of its kind in Eastern Canada. The data collected by the River Guardians provides an overview of the river's health and identifies key environmental problems within the Annapolis River and its tributaries. 

What are the objectives of the Annapolis River Guardians Program?

There are four main objectives:

  1. To establish and support a regular observation system which will provide an early warning of environmental problems;

  2. To provide a long term record of the river's health;

  3. To develop interest in the Annapolis River and community stewardship to ensure a viable resource for future generations; and

  4. To provide a knowledgeable group of local individuals who can promote the preservation, rehabilitation, and use of these estuarine and freshwater resources in the future.

Who are the Annapolis River Guardians?

The Annapolis River Guardians are the volunteers that make the program work. They are members of the communities within the Annapolis River Watershed who are interested in the quality of their environment. Since 1992, the program has trained nearly 100 individuals in water quality monitoring techniques.

Sampling Sites and Variables

Since the beginning of the program in 1992, there have been many changes to the Annapolis River Guardians Program. Over 50 sites throughout the watershed have been monitored, seven of which have been monitored annually since the start of the program. Sampling occurs every two weeks during the spring, summer and autumn. During November through March, sampling is discontinued due to freeze up. 

The parameters monitored by the Annapolis River Guardians have varied throughout the years. The following parameters have been monitored continuously since the start of the program: fecal coliform bacteria, dissolved oxygen, air and water temperature, and weather conditions. Additional parameters that have been sampled periodically include: nitrate, chlorophyll, chloride, sulphate, pH, conductivity, total dissolved solids, salinity, total suspended solids, colour and transparency.

What have the River Guardians found from the data?

In general, the Annapolis River is quite healthy. The most obvious environmental concern is the presence of fecal coliform bacteria that may indicate the presence of harmful bacteria and viruses. Unlike many rivers in Nova Scotia, the pH (a measure of acidity) of the Annapolis River is relatively good due to natural buffering provided by the geology of the watershed. Dissolved oxygen in the river has been consistently high except in the lower, tidal, portion of the watershed, where levels have been observed to drop significantly in the late summer and early autumn. 

Every year, the water quality monitoring results are analyzed and prepared into two documents. The first is the Annapolis Watershed REPORT CARD, which provides a short (four page) summary of recent water quality results. The methodology used in preparing the annual Report Card can be viewed here. The second document is the Annapolis River Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report, which provides a more comprehensive review (+40 pages) of water quality status and trends in the watershed.

Is it too late to help?

No. If you are interested in becoming a River Guardian or would just like to help, please contact us.

You can help ensure the health of the river by following some simple river friendly practices: 

  • Ensure that your on-site septic system is working properly and is well maintained.

  • Restrict livestock from waterways and maintain vegetation along the river banks.

  • Ensure that household hazardous waste products are disposed of properly.

  • Use water reduction devices throughout your home and practice water conservation.

  • Pick up debris when walking along the river bank.

The 2020 Annapolis River Guardians season was made possible thanks to the financial support of:

County of Annapolis Logo (white backgrou


2018 monitoring sponsored by:

Interpreting the results...

The thresholds used to assess the River Guardians monitoring results are based on the Canadian Water Quality Guidelines. 

For more information on water quality guidelines view the Canadian Water Quality Guidelines, produced by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment:

E. coli Bacteria
E. coli bacteria live in the digestive tract of warm-blooded animals. They occupy the same ecological niche as many human pathogens and are used to indicate the potential presence of harmful organisms (e.g. Cryptosporidium, which can cause diarrhea). E. coli bacteria have been identified as a major cause of concern in the Annapolis River watershed. The potential sources of contamination in the watershed include poorly maintained on-site (domestic) septic systems,   malfunctioning central sewage treatment plants, aquatic wildlife , domestic animals, and livestock.  

Dissolved Oxygen
Dissolved oxygen is a widely used and important general indicator of the health of aquatic systems. Aquatic organisms, such as fish, require oxygen dissolved in the water to survive. Levels below 6.5 mg/L can cause stress to cold-water fish. Sewage, manure, or algal blooms resulting from elevated nutrient levels can result in low DO levels.

Water Temperature
Water temperature also serves as a broad indicator of water quality. The temperature of  water has a direct bearing on the health and abundance of aquatic species. Trout and salmon experience stress at temperatures in excess of 20ºC and death occurs afterprolonged exposure to temperatures over 24ºC.

Turbidity measures the amount of suspended sediment in a water sample. It varies depending on soil type, amount of shoreline erosion and surrounding land use, among other things. Baseline levels are specific to each watercourse and need to be established in order to determine the significance of peak levels. Generally, turbidity values below 10 NTU are acceptable. Water that is too turbid can block light from reaching aquatic plants and interfere with feeding mechanisms of zooplankton. Turbidity is highly variable and can spike during periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt.

pH is a measure of the acidic/basic nature of water. It is expressed on a scale from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being the most basic. To ensure the health of freshwater aquatic life, pH levels should not vary beyond a range of 6.5 to 9.0. Levels below 5.0 are known to negatively affect many species of fish, such as salmon and trout. pH varies naturally, but it can also be influenced by human factors, such as acid rain inputs.